In “Alice in Wonderland,” director Tim Burton takes Lewis Carroll’s time-honored tale and converts it into a fantastical, eye-popping 3-D joy ride for the attention-deficit “Avatar” loving generation.
The most notable thing about “Alice” is that visual stimulation never stops. First, we meet a wayward, unhappy Alice (Mia Wasikowska) mourning her father’s death on the day that she receives a very public proposal from a ginger lord with digestion problems. Burton doesn’t miss a detail of the prim English countryside or its snobby, corset-wearing inhabitants.
When Alice uncomfortably edges away from the waiting crowd, a rabbit leads her to a large hole, which, of course, she falls into. This scene is 3-D at its best, with Alice swishing past books and chandeliers and bouncing on top of beds.
Starring:Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Michael Sheen, Stephen Fry, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter
Runtime:1 hr 49 min
Fans of the cartoon movie will be confused with what follows. There is an unexpected implementation of plot, and while favorite scenes such as Alice shrinking and growing are left in, the scene where she cries herself a river is left out. Instead of following Alice on a disjointed acid trip of a journey, we soon find out, through the vehicles of the White Rabbit (Michael Sheen), the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), Dormouse (Barbara Windsor), and Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum (Matt Lucas) that they are looking for an Alice who has visited before to come and release them from the dominion of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter). There is a bit of dissension about whether this Alice is the same Alice, and this is one of the plot points that gets tedious. Alice, of course, doesn’t remember being here before, and the only person who is convinced she was is the Mad Hatter.
Alice makes her way through Wonderland in an array of fabulous dresses (kudos to the costume designer), making friends with the Bandersnatch, fooling the Red Queen and eventually fulfilling her destiny by slaying the Jabberwocky.
Burton takes liberties with the original story and comes up with a plot that is painfully similar to The Chronicles of Narnia — a young girl stumbles into a world of kings, queens and talking animals. She then finds that she’s “chosen” and must rescue her little friends from a domineering queen and return the power to the benevolent ruler. The mystery of the story that is supposed to keep the audience guessing, whether or not this Alice is the one who will fulfill the prophecy, is at first, confusing (why wouldn‘t she be the right Alice?) and then annoying with repetition.
Wasikowska gives a seamless performance in this, her first major leading role. She is appropriately bold while conveying Alice’s youthful nature. She doesn’t lose herself in the potentially sappy storyline of “Am I just Alice or am I Alice?”
Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter is one of the more anticipated characters — right up there with Stephen Fry’s Cheshire Cat — and he doesn’t diappoint. His clownish clothes and spastic hair fit well with his fluorescent eyeliner and his overwhelming personality. Depp’s only misstep is his accent — is he British? Or Scottish? He had a lisp, but now he doesn’t. What could be attributed to his apparent “madness” just comes off as confusing and inconsistent.
Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter play arch enemies — and sisters. Carter provides a great deal of comedic relief as an evil, yet pitiable, Red Queen who plays crochet with a hedgehog (as the ball), uses pigs as footrests and is wildly jealous of her well-liked predecessor and younger sister, the White Queen. Hathaway brings a quirk to her perfect, gracious character, but overacts in some scenes. For instance, one wonders if she got tennis elbow from holding her arms up like she’s waltzing 24/7.
But the movie works as a whole. It’s visual (the motion capture technology is impeccable — from Stayne’s spindly daddy long legs to the queen’s bulbous head), it’s funny (Alice has a dry sense of humor that is funnier because it’s unexpected…well now I guess I’ve ruined it for you), and it’s heartwarming. Each character is relatable and sympathetic, from the ridiculously brave dormouse to the heart-melting loyalty of Bayard, the hound. And lastly, for those who aren’t fans of 3-D, worry not. This movie isn’t filled with action scenes where things are thrown at the audience ad-nauseum. The 3-D is mostly unnoticeable and only enhances the scenes when it does anything.
Don’t miss this movie — it’s a substantial upgrade from the cartoon, and it’ll leave you wanting more.